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RBSS Programme 2012

Inaugural Robert Boyle Summer School 2012


There will be a mixture of lectures, discussion and visits ensuring a relaxed pace allowing a few days to socialise, learn, reflect and discuss.


Sunday 15th July


Opening Celebrations

BBQ at the Castle Yard in Lismore Castle

Sunday 15th July 1662 – 350 years ago – saw the granting of the Royal Seal to the Royal Society and the important link with Lismore will be marked in these evening celebrations



Monday 16th July


The Reinterpretation of Robert Boyle

Professor Michael Hunter FBA

Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London

Over the past two and a half decades, our understanding of Robert Boyle has radically changed. It transpires that Boyle's spiritual life was more tortured and his intellectual personality more convoluted than has hitherto been realised, while he also had an ambivalent relationship with the medical profession and with public opinion more generally. If these newly discovered facets of Boyle make him seem more interesting than the lay saint of traditional historiography, the challenge is to understand how they relate to his role as an undoubted pioneer of experimental, mechanistic science.

Described as “having done more for Boyle studies than anyone before him”, Michael Hunter is Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the principal editor of the Works(with Edward Davis, 14 vols, 1999–2000), Correspondence (with Antonio Clericuzio and Lawrence Principe, 6 vols, 2001).and workdiaries of Robert Boyle and author of the award winning scholarly biography, Boyle: Between God and Science (2009), as well as many other books on the intellectual history of early modern England.

He is also Director of the Robert Boyle Project at Birkbeck College established to promote Boyle Studies and is chiefly responsible both for the Boyle website, and for a further website concerned with British Printed Images to 1700,


Robert Boyle and the Early Royal Society

Dr Keith Moore

Librarian Royal Society


In 1660 twelve distinguished figures of the day met and decided to establish a society that would meet weekly witness experiments and Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning'. This became the Royal Society, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. Robert Boyle was one of these founding members and this talk will relate the story of the establishment of the Royal Society and highlight Boyle’s key role in its establishment.

Keith Moore has been the Society’s Librarian since 4 July 2005. His previous curatorial experience has been with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Wellcome Institute. Keith started his career in literary libraries: he worked for the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere and the Armitt Library, Ambleside.


The 'Incomparable Lady Ranelagh': Science and the Life of Boyle's Older Sister

Dr. Michelle DiMeo

Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology

 Boyle’s closest relationship was with his older sister Katherine (Boyle) Jones, Lady Ranelagh. He moved into her London home in 1668 and lived with her until the two died only one week apart. Though historians have long acknowledged that Lady Ranelagh must have played an influential role in Boyle’s intellectual development, it has not been possible to tell this story until the recent discovery of over 100 of Ranelagh’s letters. This paper introduces her incredible life story and documents her influence on Boyle. Ranelagh’s network consisted of the most elite politicians, physicians and scientists and she was able to introduce Boyle to men who would later become Fellows of the Royal Society. Though her bold personality occasionally attracted negative attention, most contemporaries admired her intelligence, piety and wit, calling her ‘the incomparable Lady Ranelagh’.

Michelle DiMeo is Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is co-editor (with Sara Pennell) of Reading and Writing Recipe Books 1550-1800, forthcoming with Manchester University Press. She has also published essays on early modern women's medicine and on the Hartlib Circle. Her current work includes revising her PhD thesis into the first book-length study of Lady Katherine Ranelagh. She received her PhD in English from the University of Warwick, where it was co-supervised and co-examined by the History Dept.


In the afternoon there will be a costumed recreation of Boyle’s experiments to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Boyle’s Law.


Tuesday 17th July


"Boyle as Alchemist"

 Professor Lawrence M. Principe,

Drew Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University

While Boyle is often celebrated as a founder of modern chemistry who broke from a "misguided" alchemical past, he was actually deeply indebted to alchemical knowledge and practitioners and continued to pursue traditional alchemical goals-- such as the preparation of the Philosophers' Stone and the transmutation of metals--throughout his life. He argued in favor of metallic transmutation, left records of his witness of successful experiments with the Philosophers' Stone, and at one point hoped to be inducted into a secret society of alchemical adepts. Restoring the alchemical dimensions to Robert Boyle provides a fresh, and more accurate, view both of Boyle and of alchemy itself.


Lawrence M. Principe is the Drew Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of History of Science and Technology and the Department of Chemistry. He is the author of The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest (1998), The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (2011), and The Secrets of Alchemy (2012). In 2005, he received the Francis Bacon Medal for his contributions to the history of science, and is currently completing a study of chymistry at the Académie Royale des Sciences.


The Boyle Family's Domestic Medical Remedies

 Dr. Michelle DiMeo

Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology

What would you do if you came down with small pox or rickets in the seventeenth century? What medicinal uses could you find for hartshorn, mistletoe, or roses? Robert Boyle and his siblings collected a diverse range of medical remedies in household recipe books, and exchanged recipes and ingredients through the post. Medicine was intimately connected to Boyle’s scientific agenda, and he published several books promoting the value of domestic medicine. This talk will begin with an overview of early modern medical views to provide a historical context for the Boyle family’s remedies. It will then include several stories of illness and treatment, demonstrating both the conventional and unconventional remedies used by Boyle, his siblings, and their children. 

The scientific justification for Robert Boyle's Herbal Remedies

 Ingrid L. I.Hook,

Lecturer in Pharmacognosy, Trinity College Dublin

Ingrid L. I.Hook is a pharmacy graduate from the University of Manchester, England, obtaining an M.Sc. from University College Dublin. Her specialist academic  subject  is Pharmacognosy, ie. the study of medicines and substances obtained from natural sources. She was Senior Lecturer in Pharmacognosy, Head of that Department, as well as Head of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Trinity College Dublin and has been a Member of the Irish Medicines Board (IMB). Currently she is an Expert Contributor to the IMB Subcommittee on Herbal Medicines, a Member of the European Scientific Committee of Phytotherapy (ESCOP) and a Member of the RDS Committee of Science and Technology.

In the afternoon there will be a guided tour of the Lismore Castle Gardens: believed to be the only original Jacobean Gardens in Ireland. Here you will learn about the plants and herbs grown for the household including those grown for medicinal purposes.


Tuesday evening

“Robert Boyle’s Predictions for the future of science”

 Professor Jonathan Ashmore, FRS

Bernard Katz Professor of Biophysics University College London

Prof Jonathan Ashmore, FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) is Bernard Katz Professor of Biophysics University College London and director of UCL Ear Institute.  He earned a PhD in Theoretical Physics in 1971 from the Imperial College London, and an MSc in Physiology in 1974 from University College London. Prof Ashmore’s work addresses a variety of cellular mechanisms of hearing and is considered a world- leading authority in the field. Prof Ashmore acted as spokesman for the Royal Society 350th anniversary exhibition “The Royal Society: 350 Years of Science". His talk will be based on a remarkable document that was a centre-piece of that exhibition in which Boyle outlined 24 predictions for the future of science.

Wednesday 18th July


Exploring the heritage of Lismore Area